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The Mutiny of the Elsinore

Updated on August 10, 2014

NC Wyeth Mutiny

A Jack London Sailing Story

Whether you are an old salt or just someone that loves a good yarn, Jack London's The Mutiny of the Elsinore is sure to satisfy you. It's a tale of terror on the high seas very much in the vein of London's other popular shipboard adventure, The Sea Wolf.

The Mutiny of the 'Elsinore'

The Mutiny of the 'Elsinore' by Jack London, Fiction, Action & Adventure
The Mutiny of the 'Elsinore' by Jack London, Fiction, Action & Adventure

A rugged adventure aboard the sailing vessel The Elsinore as a dirty and dastardly crew of mutineers seeks the blood of the captain, his officers and passengers alike.


The Story

The Mutiny Of The Elsinore follows bored rich-boy, John Pathurst, as he books passage aboard the cargo ship, Elsinore.Bored with life in general, Pathurst is looking for some kind of stimulus to get his blood pumping and his interest piqued. As a result of this desire he comes to know the meaning of the phrase Be Careful What You Wish For. Within minutes of being on board the steel death ship, Pathurst comes face to face with the insanity that would haunt the entire voyage. A crewman, suddenly goes crazy, slashes at himself with his own knife and throws himself over the side of the boat. This spontaneous act of madness pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the voyage as crewmen are murdered or go insane.

Obviously, given the title, you will not be surprised to learn that mutiny ensues aboard the Elsinore but I can pretty much guarantee you that you will be surprised by who ultimately survives the bloody conflict and by who does not. Oddly, Jack London left some of the mysteries raised in the telling of the story unanswered. Whether he forgot to answer them, ran out of time or just didn't think they were important enough to worry about, he has left us behind with some unsolved puzzles. These did not detract from the quality of the story nor it's gripping nature but some reviewers seemed to fixate on them for some reason that was lost on me.

The Love Story

Of course there is a love story! How can you have a hell-ship full of nefarious cut throats and not have a damsel to save? What point is there in heroics if there is no one to love and protect? Fortunately the romance is not overwhelming and does not keep bringing the story to a standstill. it is actually quite amusing because Pathurst begins the voyage by mirroring the oath of many men with a kind of pledge that this siren will most definitely NOT get her claws into him. Of course, like all men, he's wrong. Months alone on a ship with a beautiful woman, what other outcome could there be? He was doomed to romance before the first line was cast off from the docks.

A Story For Sailors

If you are a sailor or you're just interested in nautical things then you will find this story particularly fascinating because it reveals some interesting details about what it was like to sail round the notorious Horn in the early 1900's. The difficulties of making this passage can best be explained by saying that, sometimes, after over a month of trying to get around the horn, ships and their crews would decide that it was easier to give up and sail around the world to come in from the other side instead. That should give you some idea of just how grueling and perilous a voyage like this can be. They talk about caulking doors shut until they have rounded and are safely on he Pacific side (passing as they are from East to West).

See The Movie

Mutiny on the Elsinore
Mutiny on the Elsinore

In 1937 this raging sea adventure was made into a movie starring Paul Lukas, who was probably best remembered for his role as Prof. Pierre Aronnax in the 1954 screen adaptation of Jules Verne's classic 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.


A Small Criticism

Several reviewers of this book were put off by what they termed it's racist point of view. Bleh. I guess it's there if you want to see it but I just took it as a good adventure yarn of mutiny on the high seas. There are a lot of books from around this time (1914) that would be considered very much not politically correct by today's standards. You could choose not to read them but then you would be robbing yourself of some great literature.


However, if I were to make a criticism of this book it would be that we never get to witness the magnificent showdown between the first mate Mr. Pike and his long sought for nemesis, the murderous second mate, Mr. Mellaire. Some reviewers claimed that the conflict never got resolved at all but I think that is a patently absurd statement. Still, I wish we had the details of exactly how it got resolved. And yet, I think that not being provided with all the gory details, and I am certain that they were indeed gory, provides us with the opportunity of imagining it for ourselves and that is somewhat unique.

Have you read this book?

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    • aethelthryth profile image

      aethelthryth 5 years ago from American Southwest

      Sounds interesting, especially the part about rounding the Horn. I first heard of the difficulties of the Horn from Sid Fleischman's children's book By the Great Horn Spoon. I don't know how accurate that book is, but the description of Tierra Del Fuego made an impression on me.


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